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23 June 2014

Uke Fest GB 2014

You might remember me talking about the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain around about this time last year. You guessed it... it's happened again! I'm back from a fun-packed weekend in Cheltenham. I shared loads of fuzzy pictures on Google+. Let me add some words and see if I can make some sense of it all...

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that the festival has a new name. The old one was too long apparently. I loved the hibiscus-cum-ukulele stage decorations. This is a picture of the main stage in Cheltenham Town Hall where all the artists played on the Saturday. The festival had a Hawaiian theme for the weekend. I must have missed that bulletin.

This is as Hawaiian as I got. Yep, I took my Sharkfin Ukulele with me... my weapon of mass destruction!

While I'm on it, I'll just mention a couple of my Cheltenham charity shop discoveries. Look at these old copies of 2000AD! Mrs Uke would have murdered me if I'd come home with these. I thought long and hard I can tell you! ;-) The one on the left is issue #3 and features cowboys with dinosaurs! The one on the right brought us the first ever appearance of Grant Morrison's Zenith.

You know when things are so bad that they're actually good. Check out this saucy kung fu mirror I spotted in Scope. I love the 70s style. No, I didn't buy it. Still regretting that...

Here's a shot of the Cheltenham Town Hall. It really is a lovely venue. Call me a boring old shit, but I really enjoyed wandering around the centre of Cheltenham checking out the architecture. It's a shame that a lot of it has fallen into disrepair. But I find, even the boarded up buildings have their own charm. Check out the beautiful artwork on the front this Deco theatre-house...

How about we talk about music now? I mean this was the whole reason for going wasn't it? The festival typically starts for most on the Friday afternoon "around the corner" at the Exmouth Arms. This was my first time to visit the Friday Night event and what I found was a lot of seasoned drinkers talking and playing ukulele. I met some wonderful people on the night who I caught up with again over the course of the Saturday. My partner in crime on this visit was +Julian Davies of Electric Ukulele Land fame. I also want to make a big call out to the Wigan Ukulele Club. They had an impressive collection of ukes with them. Ironically I have no pictures from the night except for this of a cowbell! Go figure. I've never played cowbell before. Turns out that I'm a Lowrider natural! Ha ha! Thank you gentlemen!

The next picture is of the talented Ben Rouse. I watched Ben play on the Friday and was lucky enough to get to know him and his very tolerant wife Erin on the Saturday. I'm sure I will do a whole post on Ben in the future. For now I will simply say that I am absolutely disgusted by his views on The Smiths ;-) , but look at his lovely Godin ukulele!

If I remember correctly, this is a Godin MultiUke and I was lucky enough to get a shot on it. The interesting thing to point out here is the bridge. It's a combined set of undersaddle piezo with pre-amp. In fact, I think that there might actually be 4 separate piezo conductors (one under each bit of the bridge, but I could be wrong with that). It seems that Godin have teamed up with RMC who are making custom pickups for them. I can't find any mention of this actual pickup on the RMC site.

If the truth be told, the main reason for me attending the festival was to get a chance to see some fantastic artists perform. It was all about the Saturday. Here's the line-up. I watched most of it. I'm a big fan of things being mixed up a bit so that we get a taste of different genres and styles and on the whole, this is what we got this time round. Favourites of mine included Ukulele Uff & Lonesome Dave and the incorrigible Hot Potato Syncopators. Oh Mr Teeth! There were so many great moments that I feel a bit of a cad calling out any one artist in particular.

I'm going to apologise right now for the quality of some of my photos. All these were taken on my phone and it doesn't cope well at distance, or in the dark. Oh well... you get the gist.

See below. This is cosy isn't it! Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel teamed up to do a song together with one ukulele between them. Ha ha. Sarah then went on to do her set. She really does have a lovely singing voice. I missed her performance last year. It was great to finally get to see her play.

It's widely known that I'm half Japanese. So it should come as no surprise to learn that I was super-excited to discover that the festival had brought some Japanese artists over for us. Ukulele continues to be a huge thing in Japan and they have some massively talented players. First up we got Tomoki Sato and Band who knocked out a polished set of covers and a number of their own compositions too. Their version of "Happy" was a real crowd-pleaser. I also really enjoyed the instrumental number they closed with. As much as I like the odd cover, my heart is really with the original numbers. ;-) I'm sure that these guys will go far.

Ryo Natayama closed the afternoon set with some very fancy solo strumming. I find myself coming away from events like Uke Fest GB recognising little trends. It's funny how types of instrument or playing styles fall in and out of favour. I remember how popular piccolo ukes were at the Grand Northern Festival last year. For me, this festival's trend seemed to be all about flamenco strumming. Ryo had it going on in spades. The final act Taimane Gardner also used it to great effect accompanied by Jazzy Jazz who was just as adept at flamenco on guitar.

Here's a photo of Ryo. He came across as a genuinely great guy. It was a real pleasure to see him perform. He was billed as "the best ukulele player in Japan". I'd certainly rank him up near the top. Well done!

I talked about my disappointment last year at not finding any sushi. As you can see here... I managed to fix the problem this year. Did I mention that I'm half Japanese?  I tell you... the wasabi was bloody industrial! :-S

This was a break from the norm. U.K.E. is a french artist who crafted some interesting mind-bending sound-scapes with the help of Josh on Tabla. They even managed some Drum and Bass which was a huge hit with me... but probably nobody else. Ha ha. This is what it's all about people!

Talking of percussion... +Julian Davies never stopped talking about Cajón the whole time we were in Cheltenham. He's Cajón bonkers. I think he's going make an electric one! Work on my Cajón is going well. I'll post an update soon.

I'd spotted this thing called a "Stomp box" in one of the Cheltenham music shops and lo and behold if I didn't also spot one on a stall in the Festival. I'd never heard of them before and there I go seeing two in the same day... so quizzed the seller. Apparently the inventor was at the festival, though I never managed to track him down. From what I can gather, these are effectively for creating bass drum sounds. Inside is a built-in piezo. You stamp on them... sorry... "stomp" on them as you're playing, to give you a beat. Drop Mark Pugh a line at Stones Music if you'd like to learn more about stomp boxes.

You know that I'm never happier than when I'm talking home-made instruments. This festival gave me all sorts of chances to indulge in my passion. See above an interesting idea brought to us by Buzzards Field Basses. The basic gist is that these guys provide you with a kit and instructions for turning a small guitar into an electric u-bass. All the kits they brought with them sold out on the day which I think gives you a feel for how popular a concept this is.

This is great cost-effective way of getting yourself a bass and of course, you get to do some of the work yourself too! How good is that! Go buy one! If memory serves me right, I think that the kits are circa £35 and you can pick up a small guitar for as little as a tenner if you know where to look ;-)

In fact.. Tell them King Uke sent you and I reckon you'll get a discount! :-D

Another person I was really pleased to bump into was Les Harris. You can just about make him out below photo-bombing my picture of one of the stalls. I'd heard a whisper that he'd made a banjolele that I was admiring at the Exmouth Arms so I tracked him down. What a great guy. We talked and talked and talked banjos. Ha ha. I picked up all sorts of gems from our chats and shared with him some of the challenges I'm having building my 5-string Highwayman Banjo. I'm pretty certain that I'll be doing a post on Les in the future so that you can get to see some of the wonderful instruments he's made.

Right... it's time to go. I'll wrap this up with a shot of Phil Doleman chucking loads of cash off the balcony.  He's such a generous guy!

Well done to the organisers and the million-and-one people who helped to make the festival the success it was. I had a great time! Will I be back next year? Never say never.

So... so it's time to go...


  1. Nice blog! The Godin that Ben plays indeed has 4 separate pickups on individual saddle pieces. I love mine.

  2. Thanks Barry - I'm still recovering! Thanks for the info on the pickups... you lucky man!

  3. I was there! Thanks, I really enjoyed reading this.

  4. Great stuff Pete! Glad you like the alternative festival review ;-) Hope I wasn't too far off the mark

  5. I remember talking to you about the Logarhythm Stompbox. If I'd known you wanted to mention it in your blog, I'd have made sure Howard came to say "hello". He wasn't at the Fest for the duration, just a couple of hours in the afternoon, back to see some acts in the evening, then a sit down in the park on Sunday. Lots of people are using the Log now, especially solo performers, to add a bit of drive and constant rhythm to their playing. Loads of dealers throughout the UK stock them and my company, Stones Music, distributes them :-)

  6. No problem Mark. I didn't know at that time that I was going to give you a plug ;-) Do you have any videos or links you can send me showing how the stomp box works?